Beijing is a dynamic city with a rich history that spans thousands of years. With 22 million people, it’s also the world’s third largest city. When we visited, we utilized the free China transit visa to spend 72 hours in Beijing. We spent 5 days in Beijing while visiting China twice, en route from Boston to Australia.
China expanded the 72 hour transit visa to free a 144 hour transit visa. Then COVID-19 happened which effectively closed China’s borders to leisure tourism for three years. China recently reopened its borders to leisure travel in March 2023. It’s best to check with Chinese government sites for the latest rules on visiting China.
The free transit visa saved us around $300 on visiting China. If you combine that with other travel hacks, you can potentially save thousands on a trip. We loved exploring the phenomenal palaces in the Forbidden City, tasty food, the Great Wall of China and interacting with the people of Beijing.
The People of Beijing in Street Markets
Beijing is a fantastic city for street food. This is highlighted well by several great open air street markets around the city, with a lot of variety to choose from. While we recommend much of it, including the Wangfujing Night Food Street, the Donghuamen Night Market is best for people and exotic food watching.
There’s a lot of gimmicky items at Donghuamen like fried scorpions, sea horses, starfish and silkworm cocoons that are popular to photograph, but hardly anybody actually buys them to eat. If you want to try them, ask that they be prepared fresh in front of you, rather than taking pre-made sea horses on a stick. But unless your highly intoxicated and adventurous, stick with the good food, and the people of Beijing provide a lot of it.
Some of our favorite foods in Beijing were Peking duck at Sijiminfu, fresh noodle dishes, dumplings and sweet treats like moon pies. There’s a big variety of moon pie choices in sweet shops, with selections like bean curds, green tea and fruit flavors. If they speak English, ask for recommendations and explanations. We especially loved the coconut moon pies. We also became big fans of hawthorn fruit tea. So much so, that we recently ordered some off Amazon, which didn’t compare to the freshness of what we drank in Beijing.
English in Beijing
The people of Beijing don’t typically speak much English, but vendors and especially those in the hospitality industry in Beijing can usually communicate basics in English. We generally found the people of Beijing to be good natured, helpful and on average, less pushy than sellers in major southeast Asian cities like Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City.
The people of Beijing are enjoying more opportunities that have come with their booming economy. But this also means new challenges like overwhelming pollution. Beijing has some of the lowest air quality from pollution in the world. Many expat children who reside in Beijing usually only go outside on rare days when the pollution index is low. But it’s still a fantastic city to visit, partly because the people of Beijing have much to offer.
Great Beijing Hotels
We highly recommend staying at the Inner Mongolia Grand Hotel. It’s a fantastic 5-star hotel with comfortable, modern, well appointed rooms and friendly staff. Visitors are greeted with an impressive lobby featuring a beautiful Mongolian horse statue.
We also recommend the Prime Hotel Beijing. It’s another 5-star hotel centrally located in the Wangfujing district of Beijing. We stayed at Prime Hotel Beijing on our second visit to Beijing because the Inner Mongolia was booked. It’s also a very nice hotel but the beds are extremely firm. They’re properly Asian firm, but also comfortably firm. Rooms are adorned with lovely Asian decor and modern amenities like temperature control. You can book on-site massages and there are nice dining options at the hotel too.
You can possibly book either hotel with free cancellation to hold the room and then cancel later if your plans change.
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